The Blog

What's It Really Like To Be Sexually Harassed At Work?

But what exactly do we identify as sexual harassment? Is it a crude joke, an 'accidental' leg graze, an inappropriate comment?

On Wednesday, new research unveiled by TUC found that amongst 1,500 women, 52% felt that they had been sexually harassed in the workplace and over a third reported experiencing sexually inappropriate jokes and groping.

Earlier this month, the ever-thoughtful Donald Trump was asked how he would respond if his 34-year-old daughter, Ivanka, were to be sexually harassed at work:

"I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case."

Thank goodness we have such a pragmatic chap running for US presidency.

But what exactly do we identify as sexual harassment? Is it a crude joke, an 'accidental' leg graze, an inappropriate comment?

It's a hotly debated topic; one that many would argue remains unresolved.

Earlier this year, Everyday Sexism Project founder Laura Bates engaged in a rather heated debate with Edwina Currie, former Conservative MP, on BBC's Woman's Hour.

The debate focused on an instance in which Isabel Hardman, assistant editor of The Spectator, was described by a male MP as 'the totty'.

Hardman took to Twitter to voice her offence; but should she have taken the remark as a harmless compliment?

Such was the argument voiced by Edwina, who later tried to explain her controversial views tweeting "don't be too quick to take offence, or you'll fail to distinguish between compliments and genuine creepy harassment."

Bates, who argued that the 'totty' instance should undeniably be classed as harassment, stressed that instances such as these must be reported if we are ever to see an improvement.

Hardman told The Daily Telegraph that she chose to talk openly about the incident because it "is about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace" and she felt that the few MPs who behave like that need "to know it's not on".

The worrying thing about TUC's findings is that while 52% admitted to feeling sexually harassed at work, what about the other 48%? Are they lucky enough not to have ever felt harassed or have some of them merely dismissed instances of harassment as 'just a bit of banter' as the report suggests that so many do?

More importantly, how many of those instances, 'banter' or not, remain unreported?

According to TUC, 79% women who felt sexually harassed by a colleague did not report it to their employer.

Yes, the boss may be pinching your bottom but is it worth losing your job over?

This is the unfortunate predicament that victims of sexual harassment at work are forced to reckon with.

The prevalence of the problem is probably best explained anecdotally. My friend Tilly* has kindly allowed me to share her story.

Tilly had been working at an asset management firm for one month when encounters with her charming, charismatic head of department turned dark.

The two had come across one another at the office indirectly, but had never mixed socially. Until the annual Christmas party, when the entire office were several glasses of champagne, he suddenly threw himself at her. His kiss caught Tilly completely off guard:

"I was very drunk and it completely came out of nowhere - before then I saw him as a nice guy who wasn't creepy at all."

This man has been married for 14 years; his wife is pregnant with their first child.

Knowing this, Tilly quickly pulled away and left the party feeling slightly shaken and confused. He apologised the following week.

As it turned out, it was not the first time he had been inappropriate with a younger, female colleague:

"The receptionist told me he tried it with her at the previous Christmas party."

Attempting to move on, Tilly did her best to avoid him. But unsurprisingly, this proved difficult.

"The second incident was probably worse than the first. It was at a work drinks a couple of months after the Christmas party, and although I didn't trust him, I naively thought it was a one-off.

"I was extremely drunk and he somehow managed to convince me he was being nice and escorting me to the tube.

"Looking back, I can see this was silly of me but I could barely walk and kept stumbling - he kept saying things like 'a young girl like you shouldn't be walking alone at night'.

"When we got to the tube he then said how he wanted to f**k me and that we should go get a room somewhere. He said some other horrific comments that were pretty graphic.

"At that point I just ran."

She has since confronted him about his behaviour:

"I brought it up with him pretty directly and questioned why he tries to cheat on his wife and why he thinks it's okay to prey on girls who are 14 years younger than him.

His response was that he gets stressed at work."

This man is in a position of power, such that Tilly feels to report his behaviour would be futile:

"At the time I was a temporary worker and my position was not at all secure - whereas he is a valuable part of the company. I thought that it would be easy to find an excuse for me to go if I made a fuss.

He's also seen as the nicest of nice in the office, I'm not really sure would believe me if I said something as it seems so far from something he would do."

The incidents remain unreported.

*Name has been changed to maintain anonymity.